Flowers deliver success to the ACT Young Australian of the Year
To run a busy business is one thing. To launch a social enterprise is another. To do both while working full time is something against our conventional understanding of time and space.
Not for Nip Wijewickrema. The 23-year-old co-owner of GG’s Florist has just picked up the ACT award for Young Australian of her year through not only the model of her existing business – which brings her 17-year-old sister, Gayana, into the mix, but also her passion for spreading a message of social inclusion and the benefits of ringing those with special needs into the workplace.
Since starting GG’s Florist in 2010, there has been plenty of attention on what you’re doing. Since the Award, how are things different?
I guess they’ve just become a lot more serious! When I first won Canberran of the Year, we weren’t that well known. Then we started getting a lot more media, and became something of a household name across town… people knew who we were when we arrived for a delivery!
This is next level. I feel like a little fish in a big sea when I go to the events, but everyone keeps telling us that we're doing something really good, and hopefully this is the opportunity to promote not just the business, but the underlying message – which is kind of the most important part!
Now that you’ve been operating for a couple of years, what have you adjusted in the way you run GG’s Florist?
Scale! When I started, I was like, “I’m going to employ millions of people,” but it just can’t work that way. However, that’s going to be part of message as Young Australian of the Year as well – that I still want to see those millions of people employed, but it will be lots of other people doing it alongside me in all kinds of businesses of all kinds of sizes.
Managing people with special needs is difficult… but really, really important. The business has grown a bit, so now I don’t have another full-time job, but we’re still pushing really hard to make this business break-even.
What kind of support do you get from the Government to build this business?
We do all of this on our own. Don’t worry, they certainly know who we are, but I haven’t really made a formal approach. The Community Services Directorate is fantastic in buying flowers from us – their social procurement is fantastic – but we’re very much on our own here at the moment.
The best assistance we could get would be access to a shopfront for GG’s Florist to increase our exposure. Just a pop-up for a couple of months would be great! It would allow us to test the business more thoroughly and perhaps bring another special needs employee in for a while.
So… if there’s anyone out there with an empty space…!
What would it mean to become the National Young Australian of the Year?
I think it provides a great platform to inspire encourage and empower those with a special needs family member to create their own pathway to employment. On the other side of that, I want to encourage business to look at employing special needs people as being just part of what they do.
If every business employed one special needs person we would solve a really big problem really quickly. I’m a big believer in that the value of work should be appreciated, and that the benefits it brings – financially, mentally, physically, spiritually – are really important.
The 2016 Australian of the Year Awards will be announced at 6.00pm on Monday 15 January at Federation Mall in front of Parliament House, Canberra. Live broadcast of the event is via ABC television and radio from 7.30pm.